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July 31, 2020

What Is API Architecture?

API Lifecycle Management

You need to provide the right kind of API architecture for your API and app developers, architects, and operations and security teams. This helps you take advantage of everything APIs can do for your business.

What Is API Architecture?

API architecture refers to the process of developing a software interface that exposes backend data and application functionality for use in new applications. With an API-first architecture, you can create ecosystems of applications that are modular and reusable — which is ideal for microservices. 

Effective API management means a lot more than providing a good developer portal, or a high-performance gateway. API management fills a number of key roles in the modern digital enterprise, as we show in the diagram below.

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4 Layers of API Architecture

Let’s go into these layers in more detail.

Information Management Layer

Modern digital organizations run on giant data repositories and need a steady diet of advanced database systems to store and manage all of it. All of your applications need a reliable, high-performance data layer, and you find yourself needing increasingly advanced (or simplified) data storage systems.

Application Layer

This speaks for itself, it’s where the applications that run your organization live. While many of you might yearn to be able to replace these applications with more modern alternatives built using state of the art architectures (like microservices), this is likely not realistic in many cases.

Integration Layer

This is the realm of the increasingly rare enterprise service bus (ESB), and even more rare enterprise application integration (EAI) platform. Integration architects and developers live here, elbow deep in their cauldrons working arcane magic to expose services from legacy applications and data. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Interaction Layer

The interaction layer is where the applications and services used by your customers, partners, and employees interact with your business applications and data. Applications are no longer monolithic entities that live in the bowels of the enterprise. Sure, these behemoths still exist, but increasingly, they expose core functions and data via services that an API gateway can consume and aggregate with other services and capabilities to create APIs that modern applications can use. The core of the interaction layer is the API management solution’s gateway.

Services That Support API Platform Architecture

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Management Services

All the technology that supports the digital business needs to be managed and monitored. The management services layer provides configuration management and auditing, and operational monitoring across the organization. Core API management features ranging from design and definition, through monitoring and traffic shaping reside in this layer.

This is where your centralized API management platform lives, controlling the gateway instances residing in the interaction layer.

Security Services

Becoming a digital business forces you to balance the need to provide APIs that expose your data and applications with the need to protect your customers and your systems. Security services provide an underlying set of capabilities for user and application authentication and authorization, data privacy, auditing, and more. Given that APIs are increasingly the key interaction point between applications and data, and your customers, partners, and employees, the API management solution needs to both provide and consume a range of security services.

API management integrates with your identity management systems to provide API and web services security, federation, and single-sign-on capabilities. It provides key management and cryptographic services for data privacy, and monitoring and auditing for API traffic and administrative activities.

Developer Services

APIs are all about the consumer. One key to providing a good consumer experience is an intuitive developer portal that allows API developers to design, build, and document well-constructed APIs, and help app developers find and consume these APIs with minimal friction.

API management provides this social developer experience for both API and app developers, many of whom fill both roles, forming the foundation of a grass roots digital transformation initiative.

Analytics Services

It’s all very well embarking on a digital transformation initiative, but you need to know what progress you’re making and what you need to work on. Analytics services provide business dashboards built from information collected by your API platform and from other data feeds.

API management will likely not be your primary business intelligence (BI) system, but it will definitely play a major role in providing information, and in many cases may provide all the data and reporting you need.


To review, take another look at the diagram above, you’ll see at the bottom that the underpinnings of any modern enterprise is a hybrid infrastructure layer. Some of your applications will be on-premises, others will be distributed across various cloud API architecture platforms. All of these distributed components need to be securely and reliably connected, and all of this plumbing will be via APIs. Take your API management solution seriously, and understand that it is deeply ingrained throughout your enterprise.

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